Mayor's Office Press Release
Mayor Turner Announces Consent Decree Work Begins to Upgrade Houston's Wastewater System
April 1, 2021 -- Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas approved a consent decree between the City of Houston, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the State of Texas to improve Houston's wastewater system.
The consent decree will provide an estimated $2 billion of additional work in improvements to upgrade Houston's aging wastewater system and keep up with Houston's rapidly-growing population. The goal of the consent decree is to protect the environment and human health and improve the wastewater system for generations to come.
The consent decree with the EPA is part of a national program to reduce sanitary sewer overflows, which the Clean Water Act prohibits. A sanitary sewer overflow is a backup and discharge of raw wastewater that can contaminate water, cause property damage and threaten public health. The most common causes of sanitary sewer overflows are blockages (caused by grease & wipes), wastewater line breaks, and flooding (stormwater overloads the wastewater system).
Low-income communities with higher numbers of sanitary sewer overflows and aging infrastructure will be among the first priorities under the consent decree.
"Problems with Houston's wastewater system began long before I became Mayor. During negotiations in my administration, I instructed my team to take a Houston-specific approach based on Houston's documented problems. A one size fits all solution was not working for Houston as it was estimated to take 22 years at the cost of $5 - $7 billion. When I instructed the team to focus on Houston's actual challenges, we negotiated the agreement of 15 years and $2 billion," said Mayor Turner.
Houston's wastewater system is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the nation, with approximately 6,000 miles of wastewater pipes, 382 lift stations to move waste due to Houston's flat topography, and 39 wastewater treatment plants.
Prior to negotiating the consent decree with the EPA , the City had already made significant improvements to its wastewater system, and reduced sanitary sewer overflows as a result of billions of dollars previously invested. The Greater Houston Wastewater Program, completed in 1997, proactively devoted $2.2 billion to approximately 430 projects involving construction, rehabilitation, and new or upgraded pump stations. In 2005, the City also entered into an agreement with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to spend an additional $755 million to upgrade, clean and renew millions of additional feet of pipes and infrastructure.
Entry of the consent decree allows the City to formalize and build upon its ongoing work by devoting the necessary funds to continue wastewater assessment and rehabilitation programs over the next 15 years. A rate study being performed will account for any impacts on wastewater rates due to these improvements. This investment enables the City to reduce sanitary sewer overflows, protect public health and the environment, comply with federal and state laws and regulations, and improve the wastewater system for the long term.
The City will also continue its Protect Our Pipes community outreach program to increase awareness on keeping fats, oils, grease, and other items from going down the drain.
"Houston Public Works is excited to build on our previous $3 billion investment over the last three decades. We will invest an additional $2 billion to improve one of the largest and most complex wastewater systems in the nation," said Public Works Director Carol Haddock. "This investment will focus efforts using asset management approaches, address historic inequities, and embrace innovation and technology toward a resilient and sustainable system that can perform day to day, but also withstand and adapt for changing extremes, from hurricanes to floods to droughts to freezes."
"We had bipartisan support from our congressional delegation to reach the agreement on the consent decree. I want to thank everyone for helping the City of Houston resolve this critical issue. We are now ready to move forward," Mayor Turner said.
For information and resources on Protect Our Pipes, visit: ProtectOurPipes.org
For information on Houston's Consent Decree, visit: publicworks.houstontx.gov/wastewater-CD